UMaine researchers develop hazing prevention framework

For years, hazing on college campuses has been an under-the-radar concern. Occasionally, especially when it results in death, hazing has received heightened scrutiny, both inside and outside higher education. But for the most part, it’s an issue that’s rarely discussed.

In recent years, University of Maine professor of higher education Elizabeth Allan has been trying to change that. Her dual messages: Hazing is a bigger problem at colleges and universities than most people realize, and — perhaps more importantly — it is preventable.

This month, Allan is out with new research that presents a first-of-its-kind framework for hazing prevention. It is the culmination of a three-year research-to-practice effort she has led through the Hazing Prevention Consortium, a group of eight universities, including UMaine, that collaborated on data-driven strategies to combat hazing.

“We’re in the early stages of developing a knowledge base, so this is one of the first hazing prevention studies published in a peer reviewed journal, and the first study to delineate a data-driven framework for hazing prevention. The framework helps to provide some sort of common language or roadmap to guide practice when it comes to hazing,” Allan says.

In 2008, Allan co-authored a study that painted the most complete picture to date of hazing in higher education. Based on a national survey of more than 11,400 students at 52 different institutions, the study found that 55 percent of students participating in campus organizations experienced hazing. While the numbers were higher for the usual suspects — athletics, club sports, fraternities and sororities — the research also found that hazing was prevalent in groups ranging from performing arts organizations, academic clubs and honor societies.

Allan is lead author of the new paper, “Transforming the Culture of Hazing: A Research-based Hazing Prevention Framework,” published in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. In it, she and her co-authors outline eight components for institutions to focus on: commitment, capacity, assessment, planning, evaluation, sustainability, cultural competence and implementation.

“We identified emergent themes or distinct components of the larger framework, but at the same time there is overlap in terms of the way they intersect to support the whole picture of prevention,” she says.

Because the area of hazing research is so new, the prevention framework borrows from public health prevention models, many of which focus on the social and/or behavioral aspects of public health issues — smoking prevention or teenage pregnancy, for example. Efforts are targeted at multiple levels, from the individual to the broader community.

“The different components can and should be carried out in conjunction with one another,” Allan says. “But you can place greater emphasis on different things at different times.”

For instance, in the early stages of trying to tackle hazing prevention, she says campus professionals might want to focus on building capacity and getting commitment from senior leaders. But if they don’t pay attention to sustainability during that time, it could weaken the overall effort.

The framework’s components are based on interviews and group meetings with representatives from the campuses involved in the Hazing Prevention Consortium, mostly student affairs professionals at their respective schools. However, Allan says an important takeaway from the research is the need to broaden the number of people involved in hazing prevention.

“One person, like the coordinator of fraternity and sorority life, might have it in their job description to work on hazing prevention,” she says. “But it really should also be in athletics, student activities and other areas as well, so there’s more accountability.”

Along with accountability, other key policy and practice takeaways from the research include transparency — making sure campuses are upfront about hazing, both before and after it occurs — and recognizing that different campuses have different institutional cultures and histories.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Allan says. “However, there are common threads. What the framework provides is structure, but a malleable structure.”

To guide institutions in implementing the framework, the Hazing Prevention Consortium, along with the nonprofit campus safety organization Clery Center, developed a toolkit that defines each component, talks about why it’s important and provides action steps for campus professionals.

“The toolkit is one way of getting this in the hands of people who are doing this work on college campuses to bolster their hazing prevention efforts,” says David Kerschner, doctoral student in higher education at UMaine and one of Allan’s co-authors on the new journal article.

Kerschner, who received a Chase Distinguished Research Assistant award from the UMaine Graduate School to work on the Hazing Prevention Consortium, will also be co-author with Allan and StopHazing’s Jessica Payne on a forthcoming journal article that collects survey data on students’ experiences and attitudes about hazing at seven of the eight consortium campuses. That article is due to be published later this fall, also in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

Collecting survey data to inform prevention efforts helps with understanding of “what makes hazing different from other types of interpersonal violence on college campuses, as well as what makes hazing different from campus to campus,” says Kerschner, whose dissertation research is focused on hazing in small college, NCAA Division III athletics.

In 2017, Allan started working with a new cohort of campus professionals from different colleges and universities on another three-year Hazing Prevention Consortium effort.

Future research will analyze and collect data on each component of the framework, with the goal of publishing more journal articles and building the common language of hazing prevention.

Contact: Casey Kelly, 207.581.3751